Thursday, February 11, 2010
Title: Popgun vol. 4
Editors: D.J. Kirkbride, Anthony Wu, Adam P. Knave
Genre: Comic Book
Standalone/Series: Mix-Tape Anthology
POPGUN - THE ULTIMATE GRAPHIC MIXTAPE RETURNS! The original, critically acclaimed graphic mixtape returns in a new volume, once again mashing up the next generation of cartoonists with the some of the medium's finest in stories covering nearly every genre and style imaginable!
Initially, my plans for ‘Popgun’ vol.4 included a detailed review in parts with interviews with the contributors, but I had already embarked on an epic lineup as it was, so my greedy little hands took hold of this book in February. I am grateful to one of the editors, D.J. Kirkbride, who provided my review copy, which although digital was a blast to read. Image have, in the past, gifted me with quite a few hours of pure enjoyment and to review an officially provided title is a geek moment.
That being said, ‘Popgun’ is a thick book with 512 pages, 91 contributors and 55 featured pieces. I had high hopes to muster my incredible sense of humor, whip some hip/artistic word choices and receive a public encore, because ‘Popgun vol. 4’ deserves that bang of attention. However, it is all there. As advertised every genre, story-wise and in artistic capabilities, is represented in one way or the other and the self-labeled GRAPHIC MIXTAPE fits perfectly this massive composition.
The title is self-explanatory as well. ‘Popgun’ is a Technicolor toy in the hands of hyperactive children. It pops. It surprises you in a fraction of a second. You are covered in confetti and find yourself in a kaleidoscopic sugar trip through regions of the comics medium, I’m positive you have never suspected existed. At least this is how I experienced this book. Comics are a medium that is a mystery to me and I have had limited experience with what it had to offer in length, story, concept, narrative and art. There are one-shots, mini-series and long running series, but there are also the strips and the self contained ten or so pagers. If the volume and the graphic novel are an equal to a standard novel and a comic book series equals a standard book series, then this mixtape with its strips is an equivalent of the anthology with short stories and novellas.
The ‘Popgun’ volumes give a thorough insight into the diversity that comics are. There are not just action, horror or super hero comics, though this I have to remind myself all the time. There is humor, there is satire, there is absurdity [nurtured in wild, chaotic imaginations] and there is also food for thought. An overall swipe through the titles reveals a tendency towards the funny, surreal and out-of-this world. The small injections of raw imagination in the shape of vignettes that capture bright vistas in untamed lands provide a pleasant jolt that contrasts the usually grey daily life. Some of the pieces have a plot that the readers can follow and enjoy for the adventure and adrenaline. Some pieces leave the readers figure out what they have just read and whether there is a sense to it or if these pieces are creative brain farts. Other pieces will make you reflect on life and make you feel, while a fourth group will grab you with the art. Four solid categories and I will present my favorites in each.
In the plot lot, I picked ‘Family Reunion’ by David Brenion & Joe Flood, which is also the longest piece in the mixtape with an absurd setting, absurd plot and absurd characters. We follow the rescue attempts by a girl in yellow overalls with a crowbar [I think] and a duck humanoid with a massive arsenal of weapons, who want to free their friend Frankie aka Frankenstein from the clutches of an evil scientist. From page one I had my lower jaw open, because this was wicked to read. There is nothing conventional here and I can compare it to the Bizarro movement in literature.
‘Agents of WTF’ by D.J. Kirkbride, Adam P. Knave, Matteo Scalera and so many more is an absurd tale [though in this book it is not uncommon]. The reader is introduced to Dervish, a 300 year old wizard in the body of a small boy, who carries magic bagpipes, a kilt and a dirty sense of humor, and the magic warrior Indian princess Anpaytoo, who face an evil overlord, who has a theme. The standoff is hilarious to watch unfold, especially, when the Blender of Souls is thrown in the mix. It’s one of those stories that makes you say ‘well, that’s one I haven’t seen before.’
However, real WTF moments come from the disturbingly colorful, cheery and bloody ‘Sasquatch’ by Nick Edwards, which reminded me so much of Happy Tree Friends. If cheeky bubblegum colors and gore is not your things, then the way drugged ‘Harshing the Mellow’ by Derek McCulloch & Anthony Peruzzo will be your WTF thing. We have a bong as this story’s narrator and a weed-head, who is stuck in a room, after the door, mysteriously, shrinks away. I am not sure exactly what happened in that one. I imagine it as a stagnation of the individual, after a long term addiction to weed, which kills of the mind and stops the natural desire for self-development, thus the physical isolation from the world in most literal sense here.
More on the serious side, I offer you ‘Jacket’ by Amanda Becker & Janet Kim, which gives a glimpse in the unhappy life of little Jenna, who is hurt at home as well as hurt at school. She has little to be happy about and her situation is synonymous to many others in the real world. However, the strip ends on a positive note with hope and a promise of a positive resolution behind the scenes. Another serious one is ‘Hamburgers for One’ by Frank Stockton, which explores the dimensions of the lonely heart. I was literally holding my breath with this one, because it was so well executed, both story and art. The atmosphere was intense and the whole rather uncomfortable to experience, because as social beings fear of loneliness is one that cripples the spirit entirely.
As far as art goes, I have been exposed to so many art styles that I had no clue about. I had a positive experience with some, others were okay-ish, while I had problems with others. In the end I fell completely in love with Jonathan’s Silvestre’s 8 bit technique in ‘Kill the Legend’, which brought memories from my first Nintendo video game back in the mid 90s. I also was enthralled by Jason Ibarra’s geometrical compositions in ‘The Black Decahedron’. To me it resembled frescos from crystals and prisms.
Verdict: [B+] ‘Popgun’ vol.4 is a must-have for the already converted and an experiment for those that think comics are only about capes and super strength. As with every anthology, there are pieces I loved and some that I hated, but overall the editors offer me a finished concept with a distinguished identity that is unique [and bizarre].